A perfect story with which to end the year, as it concisely captures the cleaving of the GOP into Trumpist and traditional factions and does so in a memorably absurd way.
Relentless turmoil and absurdity: That was 2020.
That, and a lot of dead bodies.
McConnell has expressed concern that GOP senators up for re-election in ‘22 will be forced to take a vote on a seemingly pointless endeavor that will imperil them either in a general or primary election
— Alex Isenstadt (@politicoalex) December 31, 2020
It takes a certain bravado to ghost the Senate majority leader and your colleagues a day after you’ve declared your intention to grind their faces in a pile of sh*t, particularly when you’ve chosen to do so for the most self-serving, career-advancing reasons. “[H]ere’s the heart of this whole thing: this isn’t really a legal strategy – it’s a fundraising strategy,” wrote Ben Sasse this morning of Team Trump’s efforts in court since November 3, but he might as well have been writing about Hawley too. Lo and behold:
Hawley fundraising off his upcoming stunt to join with the election conspiracy theorists pic.twitter.com/vBQ3zdRrLK
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) December 31, 2020
One way to look at Hawley’s gambit next Wednesday is as a simple acknowledgment that that there are now two GOPs and everyone will have to choose which one they belong to. Hawley’s no longer part of the traditional GOP so why should he take time out of his day to explain himself to McConnell?
Relatedly, for all the hype about Trump losing his grip on the GOP, how confident are we that Cocaine Mitch still rules his caucus with an iron hand? At best, he’ll have a thin 52/48 advantage in the Senate for the next two years with at least three members of his caucus — Romney, Collins, and Murkowski — who are willing to go their own way. At worst, he won’t have an advantage at all. By the time Congress convenes on the 6th to certify the votes of the electoral college, McConnell may have been relegated to minority leader. (If you believe the polls lately, you’d say that outcome is more likely than not.) It’s unclear at the moment how much of a grip McConnell will be able to maintain on populists like Hawley, Cotton, Cruz, Tuberville, and others next year with Trump barking orders at them from the sidelines via his Twitter feed.
In fact, watch Lindsey Graham casually knife Cocaine Mitch during a Fox interview this morning. McConnell’s trying to defeat Trump’s proposal for $2,000 stimulus checks by packaging that demand with two other Trump demands that’ll function as poison pills for Democrats, namely, repealing Section 230 and investigating voter fraud. The last thing Mitch needs is members of his own caucus endorsing Chuck Schumer’s call to vote separately on the checks and to put the poison pills in a different bill where they can be safely voted down. But here’s Graham doing exactly that:
Graham calls on McConnell to hold a stand-alone vote on $2,000 relief checks when the new Congress begins on January 3 pic.twitter.com/0yJtQAElru
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) December 31, 2020
There’s no good outcome for McConnell’s caucus if they vote on a standalone bill for $2,000 checks. If the bill passes, and it might, McConnell looks weak and the deficit soars another $500 billion. If the bill fails due to GOP opposition, the party will be blamed by voters for killing an effort to boost financial aid that enjoys even the president’s support — which might be enough to finish off Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in Georgia. The only “winning” move is not to play by not voting on a “clean” bill at all. But even establishment Republicans like Lindsey aren’t willing to help McConnell out in that effort when Trump is on the other side of the equation.
Although I wouldn’t read too much into that. Graham isn’t throwing in with the Trumpist GOP against the traditional GOP like Hawley is. True to form, he’s going to try to play both sides. As Barack Obama said, Lindsey’s the guy in the spy thriller who double-crosses everyone to save his own skin. Today was just McConnell’s turn to be double-crossed.
I doubt we’re going to get a vote on a standalone bill even in the new session of Congress that begins on Sunday, but the Trump/Dem alliance is going to keep trying:
Schumer makes McConnell an offer: Allow a vote on the House-passed CASH Act and he’ll support a vote on Section 230, a voter fraud commission and “whatever right-wing conspiracy you’d like,” even one that looks into whether Brad Raffensperger “has a brother named Ron.”
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) December 31, 2020
As for Hawley, don’t assume that he’s won his chess match with McConnell just because he was willing to upend the board. Politico pointed out yesterday that something important will happen on Sunday when Congress meets: The House and Senate will formally adopt the rules that will govern their session on January 6, when the electoral votes from each state will be certified. The Electoral Count Act of 1887 lays out the procedures for objecting that Hawley plans to use, but each chamber of Congress has plenty of leeway in how they run their shop. McConnell might try to rein in Hawley and Trump’s House Republican supporters somehow via the rules that are passed on Sunday:
Rather than take the extreme route of bypassing the Electoral Count Act altogether, constitutional scholars say lawmakers could use the opportunity to clarify and add to existing processes in order to stave off uncertainty stoked by Trump’s hard-line allies. That could include restricting Pence’s power to make sweeping procedural rulings or setting criteria that prevent him from introducing alternate slates of presidential electors in states won by Biden, a gambit some Trump allies have urged him to attempt.
‘What counts as a purported slate of electors from a state? Under what circumstances is a vice president allowed to present a potential slate of electors to the joint session? What types of objections are and aren’t in order?” said Michael Morley, a Florida State University election and constitutional law expert. These questions, he said, could all be clarified by Congress if lawmakers choose to supplement the Electoral Count Act rules with procedures that respond to the clear efforts of the president’s allies.
For McConnell, the question may be as simple as deciding what’s more likely to piss off Trump fans and deepen the party’s divisions. Allowing the process to play out as planned, with Hawley and MAGA congressmen grandstanding for hours before Congress is forced to vote on whether to accept each swing state’s results? Or truncating the process via a new rules package and certifying Biden’s win on the 6th in a short, ho-hum session in which the caucus avoids taking those tough votes on the results from swing states? My guess is that the latter would cause more trouble, especially with Trump expecting a big show next Wednesday on the House floor about how he “really” won the election. McConnell may have no choice but to let Hawley proceed as scheduled.
Update: A precedent the GOP will come to regret:
2 House Republicans tell me they expect as of now that at least 140 Republican Members of the House will on Jan 6 object to and vote against the Electoral College results showing President-elect Biden won
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) December 31, 2020